Why We’re Teaching a Career Class for English Majors

This winter quarter the UC Davis English Department is collaborating with the Internship and Career Center on an experiment.


We’re co-teaching a class called “Career Decision-Making and English.”


Everybody knows--or everybody really should know--that English majors have remarkably various careers (check out some of our grads and what they are doing here).


That means English majors have a lot of decisions to make, since majoring in English does not mean training for a specific job.


How can English majors prepare for the diverse career paths before them and how can universities help them? This is the question that animates our course.      


One of the keys in this class will be thinking critically with our students about the world of work today. One starting point could be a recent New York Times story on “Six Myths About Choosing a College Major.” Consider “Myth 4: Liberal arts majors are unemployable.” “The long-held belief by parents and students that liberal arts graduates are unemployable ignores the reality of the modern economy,” the Times relates, “where jobs require a mix of skills not easily packaged in a college major.”


The Washington Post ran a column debunking this myth recently too by City University of New York English Professor Cathy Davidson. She referred to a study by Google identifying the “eight most important qualities” of its top employees. “STEM expertise comes in dead last,” Davidson reported. The truly most important were qualities like “communicating and listening well” andbeing a good critical thinker and problem solver” that English majors learn well.


So how to turn these qualities into a career?


Over the course of the quarter, we’ll be working with students on tactics and strategies to help them now and in the future as they pivot from studying English to working...well, just about everywhere!


We’ll also be talking about how to take a step back and think critically about their plans. Career planning is what some design scholars call a “wicked problem,” which is to say, it’s a problem with many moving parts and uncertain resolution. You don’t solve it once. You solve it over the course of your life. We hope that a little critical distance will help our students take charge of their careers, find work that is meaningful and satisfying, and, equally, help them shape the culture of work over the course of their careers.